“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu
When we’re in a hurry, rushing to get somewhere or to get things done, we tend to have our attention on the end goal – our destination. You could say that our mind is several steps ahead of our body. When this happens, we become oblivious to the state of tension in our bodies. It isn’t uncommon to go into the startle pattern or fear reflex, tensing our neck muscles, tightening our jaw, hunching our shoulders, pulling our arms into the body and fixing in the ribcage so that our breathing becomes short and shallow.
If we’re walking, our stride often becomes longer and our torso may start to lean forward or our head and neck may start to move forwards from the spine. It’s as if we think we’ll get to our destination more quickly if we move the head and/or torso forward in space. We’re not actually ‘hurrying up’, we’re ‘hurrying down’ – our vertical height from top vertebra to sacrum has diminished. By leaning parts of our body forward, we think we’re making it easier for ourselves to reach our goal more quickly. In fact, what we’re actually doing is throwing the body out of alignment, losing our centre of gravity and making the act of walking more difficult as the body tries to compensate for this imbalance.
The head is heavy (weighing approx 12lbs) – when the body is in alignment, this balancing act is fairly effortless as the suboccipitals at the back of the neck make their delicate adjustments and the deep postural muscles in the spine do the same. A young child learns to sit, stand and walk by learning how to balance the weight of different parts of the body in different positions, not by developing muscle strength alone.
Moving the head forward from the spine means that the larger, superficial muscles will have to work harder to manage that weight. Similarly, if the torso is held forward from the hips, the muscles in the back will have to compensate by fixing and tensing – compare the weight of a full kettle when you’re standing close to it and when you’re at arms length. Instead of making things easier for ourselves, we’ve made it harder.
So, when we are in a hurry, it may be helpful to think of literally hurrying ‘up’ instead of leaning forwards and hunching and diminishing our stature. Anatomically, when we’re walking, the only parts of the body that need to go forwards are the knees! Think about it…the knee has to go forward to initiate the movement of the leg so that we can take a step forward and then, as the weight is transferred and the other knee moves forward, the whole body is carried forward in space. The head can remain balanced and poised on the top vertebra and the upper body can also be left alone. Walking becomes much more effortless as we stop interfering (ie moving the head or torso forward), enabling the correct muscles to do their job more easily.
It will feel strange to begin with when we take on board this effortless haste, allowing ourselves to ‘hurry up’ in this easy way because, without realising it, we have trained ourselves to believe that we have to hold a certain state of tension in our bodies in order to get somewhere faster or to get something done quickly. This is not true – we cannot move faster or more efficiently when our muscles are tight and our joints fixed. On the contrary, this make us stiffer and slower, uses more energy and even ages us as we unintentionally adopt the stereotypical ‘old person’s posture’.
Note: these posts represent my current thoughts and experience of the Technique and will probably be most helpful for existing students and new teachers of the Alexander Technique.